The Weekly Round-Up #78 with Ed Brubaker’s Criminal, Hellboy, iZombie, Flashpoint & Fear Itself

Best Comic of the Week:

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #1

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

It’s been a while since we’ve visited the world of Criminal, my favourite of all the books that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have worked on together.

This new Criminal arc feels very different from any of the previous ones.  To begin with, it’s set in 1982, and so far has only a tangential connection to the usual cast of characters (our new main character, Riley Richards, owes money to Mr. Hyde).  Instead, this is a series steeped in nostalgia, about a man who returns to the small town where he grew up when his father becomes sick.

Slowly, we learn about Riley’s childhood friends, his unhappy marriage to his rich high school sweetheart, and the pressures that he is under.  The crime element is revealed with the last page, and by the time it comes around, we already like Riley enough to stick with him through what promises to be some poor choices.

Phillips is always brilliant, but what makes this new series stand out visually is the decision to draw and colour flashbacks in a 1960s joke comics style, like Riley’s early life could have happened in Riverdale.  It’s a good trick.  I’m very excited to read the rest of this series.

Other Notable Comics:

BPRD: The Dead Remembered #3

Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Art by Karl Moline and Andy Owens

This series, which has examined Liz Sherman’s first mission for the BPRD, ends very well in this issue.  Earlier, I found that things felt a little forced at times, but with this last chapter, Mignola and Allie really find their groove, and give us a very good story.

Liz has accompanied Professor Bruttenholm on a mission to Massachusetts to aid an old friend who believes his house is haunted by a victim of the witch trial days.  As it turns out, it’s actually the woods that hold the spirit, and Liz and a young local boy are the ones that discover that.

There’s a very cool scene where the ghost forces Liz to relive her own experiences, and the art keeps shifting from what is happening to Liz in the present to what happened to the accused witch in the past.  It works very effectively.

I did enjoy getting reacquainted with Liz’s character, and look forward to her return to current continuity with the next issue; it’s been a long time since we’ve seen her in BPRD.

50 Girls 50 #1

Written by Doug Murray and Frank Cho
Art by Axel Medellin

50 Girls 50 is a fun science fiction adventure comic with art by the current artist of Elephantmen.  Story-wise, it reminds me of a free-wheeling all-girl version of the early days of Fear Agent (whatever happened to that book?).

A group of all-female scientists have been sent on a resource-gathering mission through a wormhole for five years.  Now they are sent to return to Earth, hopefully with their ship full of bounty.  As they come out of their wormhole, however, they find themselves orbiting a different planet.

Two women go to check it out, and are soon running from giant insects, as something in the atmosphere melts their gear (including the plastic stitching in their uniforms).  Yes, we are in cheesecake territory, but it’s still a fun comic, with some decent character work and great art.

What I don’t understand though, are the basic premises of the series.  How would one ship be able to gather, in five years, enough of any material to help a planet choked by overpopulation and lack of resources?  In the text piece at the back of the book, co-writer Doug Murray says that only 50 women had the necessary triple-x chromosome that would allow them through wormholes, yet the comic makes it sound like any woman can do this.  Also, throughout the promotional material for this series, it keeps referring to “10 Ships. 50 Women”.  Well, if there are ten ships, the other 9 never come up.  Also, the one in this comic has at least 6 women on board, making the math not work for the others.

I know a lot of this is minor quibbling, considering that I enjoyed the comic, but it is this lack of proper editing and oversight that gets on my nerves with some Image comics.  I like things to be clear.

Hellboy: The Fury #1

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Duncan Fegredo

Is it strange that I usually prefer the various one-shot issues of Hellboy, set in random times throughout the almost seventy years that he’s lived on Earth, over the current continuity stories that have been building, for years, to this three-issue mini-series?

It’s just that I tend to find that in the “stories that matter”, Mignola’s writing becomes so wrapped up in grand plots that the characters don’t get a lot of room to breathe.  Case in point – Hellboy spends this issue fighting his way up a staircase to battle Nimue, the queen of the witches (who is not really that at all).  He doesn’t get much in the way of character moments, and everything seems terribly overwrought.

His girlfriend, Alice Monaghan, however, does get some space, although most of that is taken up with the story of the owner of the pub she and HB have been hanging out in since the last mini-series.

Don’t get me wrong – this is a good comic, full of fantastic art.  It’s just that I find myself looking more forward to the quick one-offs, done by various artists.  Maybe all that will change though, once Mignola finishes his big story over the next two issues.

iZombie #14

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

Who would expect that a comic about zombies, vampires, wereterriers, ghosts, human spirits that live in the bodies of chimpanzees, and secret societies of monster hunters would devote so much space to the love of skee-ball?  And that, right there, is why iZombie is such a great series.  The bizarre creatures that populate Roberson’s book are exceptionally normal in how they go about their daily lives, with the exception of their monstrous circumstances.

The book opens with Gwen trying to preserve her memories by eating brains more often, although this leads to the compulsion to win a Skee-ball championship.  I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that the immortal mummy, Amon, is also a fan of the game.  Later, Galatea makes contact with Gwen, and it looks like she has some interesting information about Gwen’s provenance as a zombie.

While this is going on, Spot has been fighting zombies in catacombs under the city, and Horatio has been fighting them in the streets.  We also check in on Spot’s grandfather, and the vampire paintball girls.  Again, there is a back-up featuring the Dead Presidents, and we learn the identity of the person who plays Charlie to their Angels.  Great writing, and superb Michael Allred art makes this book a winner.

Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #5

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by John Severin

Three Mignola books in one week is quite a treat, although it probably would make more business sense were Dark Horse to stagger them so that Mignola fans would have a reason to go to the comic store each week.

Anyway, this second Witchfinder series ends very well, as Grey and his new friend Morg confront Eris, along with her army of zombies.  Stuff gets explained, and Grey finishes his mission.  What interested me most about this book was the way in which the final page explains the impact this mission had on Grey’s entire career.

The highpoint of this series for me was John Severin’s art.  He truly is a master of the craft, and at his advanced age, is as good an artist as he ever was.  I’m not sure how long we’re going to have to wait before we see Sir Edward Grey again, but I hope it’s not too long.

Sweet Tooth #22

by Jeff Lemire

Reading through this issue, I was surprised to find that I’ve started to care about the book’s supporting characters.  Originally, I was really only concerned with Gus and Jeppard, but I have found that some of the other people that make up the cast of this book have really started to grow on me.

This issue has an odd little scene where Dr. Singh, formerly so calculating and methodical, has begun to get swept up in the “Bible” that Gus’s father had written.  It seems that as he approached death, the man we know of as Richard Faunin became obsessed with a couple of figures that look to be influenced by Native American beliefs.

Most of this issue is taken up with Jeppard and Gus meeting Walter, the guy who lives in the dam.  Jeppard doesn’t trust him, and Gus and Singh want to continue traveling to Alaska, while just about everyone else wants to stay someplace safe and warm.  A meeting with some of Haggarty’s men promises that the next few issues will be really interesting, and I’m picking up a Dharma Initiative/Others vibe to things.  Lemire is doing some brilliant work with this book.

Who is Jake Ellis? #4

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Tonci Zonjic

Who is Jake Ellis? is a very cool mini-series.  This issue is filled entirely with Jon Moore breaking into the Facility compound that he’s finally tracked down.  He’s doing this because he and Jake Ellis, the voice in his head, are desperate to figure out what was done to them a few years ago.  You see, somehow, because of the doctors or scientists at this Facility, Jake exists only as an independent consciousness inside of Jon.

This makes for some very cool scenes, as Jake gives Jon the benefits of having an omniscient narrator who is able to describe and perceive his surroundings in minute detail.  Because of this, Jake can advise him of not just when a camera is pointing at him, but also if someone is watching the monitor.  The infiltration scenes are very neat, as watch Jon and Jake dance through security, and make their way into the bowels of the Facility, where it looks like they will learn what they’ve been looking for.

Edmondson imbues this book with taut suspense, and Tonci Zonjic is drawing the hell out of it.  His art is stylized and perfect for this book.

Quick Takes:

Adventure Comics #527 – I know that tons of fans have been wondering why Comet Queen is back in the Legion Academy, right?  Well, maybe 3 or 4 fans….  Anyway, this issue fills in the gaps of where the 31st century’s flying valley girl has been over the years.  It’s an okay, but pretty forgettable issue (which is how I feel about this whole Legion Academy run).

Avengers Academy #14.1 – There have only been a few of Marvel’s .1 issues that have lived up to the stated intentions of that promotion, but this is definitely one of them.  Christos Gage uses this issue to thoroughly examine each member of the Academy team and their motivations, when they go and look up another former victim of Norman Osborn’s.  This is a guy with Element Lad-like powers, who has been using his abilities to get rich, and fund the activities of some of Osborn’s other victims.  Of course, he’s not exactly what he seems…  There’s a lot of exposition at the start of the issue to bring new readers up to speed, but after that is a story that new and old readers can enjoy equally.  Gage does great work on this title, as does penciler Sean Chen.

Fear Itself #3 – Am I the only person having a hard time understanding the scope of this series?  I think that the Serpent feels like he was created only for this series, and therefore carries no sense of drama or impending doom for me, and it’s affecting my enjoyment of the whole series.  That, and the falling hammer stuff just feels so random, yet is affecting exactly the cast of characters you would expect it to, so it is both random and predictable.  I’m sure there will be a lot made of the semi-major character needlessly killed off in this issue – I think it’s a shame, as it’s someone I’d really grown to like, but it does explain the changes coming in his title.  The individual story beats here work well, but I’m not really feeling the big picture.

Fear Itself: The Deep #1 – I was down for a Defenders reunion written by Cullen Bunn, who writes Oni’s astounding series The Sixth Gun, but of course, this is all mired in cross-over-itis.  It’s not a bad comic, and I like the idea of mixing Lyra (the new She-Hulk) with Namor and Dr. Strange, but the whole thing is way too plot driven for me.  Also, wasn’t New Atlantis built to hold up the X-Men’s Utopia?  You would think they would notice something like a Norse-evil possessed Attuma laying waste to it.  At the least, you’d think that Utopia would get mentioned….

Flashpoint: Batman Knight of Vengeance #1 – I think it’s worth pointing out here that I’m not going to bother with Flashpoint from here on out, except for some of the mini-series.  And those, I’m only going to get based on the creators involved.  The whole thing just doesn’t interest me.  I used to like Elseworlds books, but I got tired of the novelty settings, and the fact that they only very rarely (ie. The Golden Age) had something new to say about the characters, instead of being about a gimmick.  You would think this week’s news about DC’s relaunching of their entire line has made me more interested in Flashpoint; instead, it’s had the opposite effect, as this looks like the perfect time to dump series that I’ve only been reading out of loyalty to the characters, like the Legion and JSA.  I’ll only be picking up new titles based on the creative teams, as DC has removed any attachment I have to the characters by making this move.

Anyway, this is supposed to be about Flashpoint: Batman.  Here’s a good case in point.  I’m sick of Batman Elseworlds style books, but this one is by Azzarello and Risso, so I bought it.  Unfortunately, it’s not all that good.  Very little is done to establish this world’s Batman (I won’t spoil who he is) short of a silent flashback.  DC needs to make better use of the 20-page format if they want to maintain readership.  There’s nothing terribly special about this take on Batman, which makes me wonder why they bothered.

Flashpoint: Secret Seven #1 – The thought of Peter Milligan writing Shade the Changing Man again, and having him lead a team, sounded pretty irresistible, but in the end, it was only a mediocre debut issue.  Maybe if it had been drawn by Chris Bachalo, and had a cover by Brendan McCarthy, I’d be more likely to come back…

Halcyon #5 – I thought this was a great little mini-series.  Guggenheim played with the role of super-heroes in a peaceful world, as a master villain has designed a device that has brought about world peace.  The Batman-figure in this title won’t accept this new status quo, and this final issue shows just how far he’d go to return things to the way they were.  Great writing, and very nice art by Ryan Bodenheim (who got this series done in less than half the time it took to do two issues of Red Mass for Mars).

Heroes for Hire #8 – More good old fashioned straight up super-heroics, as Spider-Man fights the Scorpion, Misty Knight fights Batroc, and Paladin and Satanna deal with the demonica weapons.  Brad Walker is back on art, so things look as good as Abnett and Lanning write.  This is one series that is growing on me – the next issue has the Gargoyle, the Shroud, and Elektra on the cover – can’t wait!

Hulk #34 – There are two problems with this comic.  The first is that regular series artist Gabriel Hardman isn’t around (even though Carlos Pagulayan did a fine job, Hardman is one of the main reasons why I buy this book).  The second is that, for whatever reason, Jeff Parker has decided to create a two-part homage to the classic Planet Hulk story.  That’s fine, but seeing as he’s spent the last few issues lining up a number of threats for Red Hulk to deal with on Earth, the timing is confusing.  Otherwise, this is, as always, a decent comic.

Jonah Hex #68 – First things first – is the new DC still going to have a place for Jonah Hex?  I certainly hope so.  Sure, the quality of the individual issues of this series can range wildly, but when it’s good, as it is this month, it can be very, very good.  This issue is basically a twist on an Agatha Christie parlor mystery, except that the guests are looking to hang Jonah for a murder he didn’t commit, and the parlor is a hotel room.  Rafa Garres provides some deliciously ugly artwork – just about everyone in this book looks misshapen or strange – and Palmiotti and Gray have fun casting Jonah in a Hercule Poirot light.  I do hope this book survives the post-Flashpoint relaunches, and we don’t start to see a younger, prettier Jonah going around in a high-collared Rebel uniform.

Moon Knight #2 – I’m really not sure about this new direction for Moon Knight.  When I thought that he was just hearing the voices of three major Marvel characters in his head, I thought it an odd choice for the character, but I could live with it.  Now though, he’s dressing like Spider-Man and also popping claws like Wolverine, and it stretches credulity a little too far.  At the same time though, I’m happy to see the return of Echo (wondered where she’d gotten to), and I always like Alex Maleev’s art.  I’ll stick with the book for now, but I’m not too sure of it…

Secret Six #34 – Here’s one of the best arguments I can think of for not relaunching the entire DC Universe line of comics.  Secret Six is consistently one of the best books that DC publishes, and the strong writing and amazing character work on display in this issue is a prime example of just how good this book can be.  Gail Simone uses this issue to wrap up a number of plotlines, as Scandal rescues her girlfriend from a potential serial killer, the team examines their relationships with one another, and Bane goes on a date.  In light of DC’s announcements of the week, it’s hard not to see this issue as a conscious effort to come to a close though, and that makes me unhappy.

SHIELD #1 – I don’t see any reason for this book to have been relaunched with a new #1 instead of being #7, except that it gave Marvel an excuse to raise the price.  Hickman’s super-bizarre retcon of the history of the Marvel Universe continues, as does the battle between da Vinci and Isaac Newton, while we learn a lot more about Michelangelo.  A new reader wouldn’t have the first clue with this comic, but it is very good.

Superboy #8 – Here’s another good argument for not re-launching the entire DCU line.  Lemire’s done a terrific job of setting up a nice long story in this book, and I hope he has enough space to finish his story properly.  This issue explains a lot of what’s been going on in the book, as the Phantom Stranger tells a tale of Smallville’s past, and Superboy and friends travel under the town (can an appearance by Klarion the Witch-boy be far off)?  This is a really good comic.

Thunderbolts #158 – Finally, a good tie-in issue.  The Thunderbolts, and their Beta Flight team (the Underbolts?) are off on a mission in Iraq when a giant space hammer flattens the Raft and turns the Juggernaut into one of The Worthy.  There’s a lot of time spent on the Iraqi zombies without ever learning why they needed to be fought, but the Raft scenes are terrific.  Next issue is going to be like watching the prison riot episode of Oz.

Turf #5 – I really enjoyed this mini-series, despite the delays between issues.  Jonathan Ross’s writing really improved over the course of the series, as he became less verbose, and let the brilliant Tommy Lee Edwards do his thing without burying his art in text boxes and balloons.  This series was a vampire/gangster/space alien adventure set in Depression era New York.  It definitely gets points for creativity, but Ross developed some very strong characters, and the book was impressive.  If you haven’t been reading it, get it in trade.

Uncanny X-Force #11 – As much as I disliked the Age of Apocalypse, I have to admit that Remender handles X-Force’s visit to that alternate world quite nicely.  Also, this is probably the first time I’ve ever seen art by Mark Brooks, and haven’t hated it.

X-Factor #220 – Does anyone else feel like the plots in X-Factor have been way less than spectacular lately?  I love the idea of getting Rahne and Shatterstar together for a conversation in this issue, but really?  A demon that is bothered by Rahne’s pregnancy?  Yawn.  If you think that Rob Liefeld’s characters from the 90s are the height of Marvel mutant perfection, you might be excited by the last page of this comic.  Me, I was trying to remember what that character’s derivative name was…

Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4:

Amazing Spider-Man #663

Astonishing X-Men #39

Irredeemable #26

X-Men #12

Bargain Comics:

Astonishing X-Men #37 – Fin Fang Foom in Tokyo means good times, especially with Jason Pearson on art (even if he doesn’t do the whole book).  I’m not sure what’s going on with this title – it’s almost become weekly, but it looks like its shifting focus to a different story with a different team.  Like they didn’t know that Pearson was a slow artist or something…

The Mighty Thor #1 – I can’t see this drawing in anyone who has enjoyed the movie – Thor is kind of whiny, and since I suppose this all happens before Fear Itself gets underway, we already know that there will be no import in the outcome.  Fraction’s Thor has been really disappointing – I find it hard to believe this is the same guy writing Iron Man, let alone the guy who wrote Casanova.

X-Men Giant Size #1 – Is this all that Marvel is doing to ramp up X-Men production for the X-Men First Class movie?  This is a story that takes place both in modern X-times and hearkens back to the matching yellow and blue suits days.  Decent writing, decent art, and it does away with the weirdness that was Chris Claremont’s Neo.  Not enough to convince me to buy the adjectiveless X-Men issues that it leads into though, at least not at regular price.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Mountain Girl

by Ross Campbell

Apparently this started out as a “goof off” project for Ross Campbell, of Wet Moon and The Abandoned fame, but then became much more.  The earliest chapter of the book has a slightly butch-y looking woman in tiny loincloth and bikini top fighting a gigantic beaver god (don’t read into things – it’s the animal).

From there, Campbell starts to actually flesh out the character of Iha-Naga, the Mountain Girl, just as her physical appearance becomes more fleshy.  Mountain Girl fights a giant flying shark, some bizarre creatures called the Watiko, fights with her family, and heads off on a quest.

The story doesn’t end in this book; instead, Campbell has decided to abandon the project as it stands, and plans to relaunch it later, making some major changes to the story and characters’ appearances.

Campbell’s art is always great, and I feel like he spends most of this book working in a Richard Corben vein, while still staying true to his own artistic sensibilities.  There’s not a lot of thinking required to enjoy this book; instead, it’s a pretty visceral experience, with lots of action, and big, bare-breasted women.

Noche Roja

Written by Simon Oliver
Art by Jason Latour

I found this entry to the Vertigo Crime imprint to be enjoyable, if wholly predictable.  Noche Roja is set on the Mexican/American border, and is concerned with the disappearance and murder of a number of young female maquiladora workers (who are strangely also referred to as maquiladoras, although I’ve never heard it termed that way before).  Jack Cohen, your typical down in his dumps PI is hired to look into the murders, and finds that the whole sordid business is tied to politicians in both countries.

Cohen, of course, has a history with law and order in Mexico, and is himself dealing with ghosts from the last time he crossed the border.  He works with a young human rights crusader, and the standard scenes of things like them getting chased through the barrio appear on schedule.

There’s nothing wrong with this book – it has a compelling enough story, and nice, noir-ish art by Jason Latour.  It just doesn’t particularly impress either.  This book treads ground that is familiar to me.  Roberto Bolano’s brilliant 2666 concerns itself with the murders in Northern Mexico (although Bolano doesn’t limit his scope to just 3 or 4 murders), while William T. Vollmann, in his dauntingly exhaustive Imperial, tried to gain access to a number of maquilas.  While I feel that Simon Oliver did some research for this graphic novel, I almost feel better informed for having read only these two books.

Solstice

Written by Steven T. Seagle
Art by Justin Norman

I picked this book up by chance, and am so glad that I did.  Solstice began its existence as two-issues of an uncompleted mini-series, before finally being concluded in this volume ten years later, in 2005.  Seagle has made a name for himself with books like Amazon, It’s A Bird, and House of Secrets, and I always enjoy his independent work.

Solstice is narrated by Hugh, a young man who has been spending years assisting his dying rich father in his search for the Fountain of Youth.  Russell, the father, is a horrible person.  He bullies Hugh and his employees mercilessly, as he maintains his focus on his elusive goal.  His first two expeditions, to the Canadian Arctic and to Siberia were failures, but he is sure that his current trip to Chile is going to pay off.

What makes this book work so well is the completely non-linear way in which Hugh tells his story.  He constantly jumps back and forth, and begins the story with the death of his father in Chile.  From there, his tale unfolds much in the manner that memory does – as a series of associations and leaps of logic.  It’s very demanding for the reader, but at the same time, gives this book an almost conversational air that I found to be very refreshing.

Norman does a great job of keeping things together, subtly aging characters to help the reader establish their own timeline of events.  In all, I enjoyed this book quite a bit.  It’s probably not that easy to find now, but it’s worth the hunt.

Album of the Week:

Nigeria 70 – Sweet Times – Afro-Funk, Highlife & Juju from 1970s Lagos

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